Thursday, 12 March 2015

Early March in Salalah

During the two mid-weeks either side of last weekend's long desert trip, I have birded very close to the city of Salalah.

Indeed I have only been to three sites because of work pressure. These were Raysut cliffs (twice), Jarziz farm (twice) and Ayn Hamran (three times).

The visit to Raysut cliffs was solely to look for one bird: red-billed tropicbird.

It comes to the shore in March and April to breed. This is exactly the same time as is recorded for the Farasan Islands in Saudi Arabia and earlier than previously published for Oman.

Another birder recorded seeing 10 in the area a week ago. 

Having said that I went out on Sunday evening and saw none. Indeed there were only sooty gull, Hueglin's gull on the sea, Tristram's starting on the cliffs and common sandpiper, Abyssinian white eye, Ruepell's weaver and Indian house crow in a cove.

Not to be deterred, I returned in an earlier part of the afternoon and three days later to the same spots to look again.

red-billed tropicbird 

This time I counted 23. They were spread out all the way from the lighthouse to the quarry either side of the Oasis Club looking out to sea.

another red-billed tropicbird

This was bird 260 on my Oman list and a lifer.

I will be back again in the next two months to get better pictures.

The visits to Ayn Hamran have not yet provided any new passage species but birding has been interesting as always there.

masked shrike

The male masked shrike that has been present all winter is still there.

second view of masked shrike

I have spent a lot of time looking for passage warblers with limited success though it is still early.

Arabian warbler

In an area which Arabian warbler like, I have come across a lesser whitethroat and a common whitethroat.

second view of Arabian warbler

The former bird winters in small numbers in Dhofar so the common whitethroat has a higher probability of being on passage.

Asian koel

I have seen a second Asian koel there. This bird was very shy and lighting wasn't very good. Nevertheless I can make out it is an immature male with incomplete dark blue plumage and a bill which is only just starting to turn yellow.

close up of head of Asian koel

Otherwise the birds at Ayn Hamran were the same mostly residents with a few winterers such as a an ever-present greenshank hanging on.


These residents include a large number of blackstart and cinnamon-breasted bunting. Although I need to check each bunting so as not to miss the few ortolan bunting which fly through the area.

cinnamon-breasted bunting

My third venue has been Jarziz farm within the city. This is another prospect for ortolan bunting.

I confirmed my suspicions that the small heron which has been sitting next to the holding tank on every visit is indeed an Indian pond heron.

Indian pond heron

Otherwise much of my time has been spent at the very large pivot field. So far migrants have been restricted to northern wheatear (seemingly already all gone through), yellow wagtail and barn swallow in large numbers. Though the common quail I keep flushing may be migrants too and the Richard's pipit and tawny pipit could be either winterers or on passage.

barn swallow

The barn swallow were closely inspected as red-rumped swallow is still a target for me in Oman. I am confident I didn't miss any this time.

second barn swallow

Also in the field on all visits so far have been chestnut-bellied sandgrouse and singing bush lark.

rosy starling

On my last visit I stayed until close to dusk and as it got close 50 or so rosy starling arrived. This was a good view as I approached the car to leave.

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